From The Chicago Tribune

IN THE final month of his campaign, Joe Biden journeyed to Gettysburg, site of the decisive battle of a conflict that nearly destroyed the nation. His message was a promise to help bridge our current divisions. “What we need in America,” he said, “is leadership that seeks to de-escalate tensions, to open lines of communication, to bring us together, to heal, to hope,”

Biden’s election to the presidency in a very tight contest is an expression of confidence in him — and a rejection of the incumbent. President Donald Trump carried with him a legion of supporters who embraced his outsider, politically incorrect persona, but he didn’t expand that base by enough. Too often he showed disdain for those who didn’t immediately embrace him. This is what cost Trump a second term. Among the many factors in this election was a widespread hunger to realize our founding ideal, e pluribus unum — out of many, one.

Biden campaigned on this theme from his first rally, where he urged Americans to choose “unity over division.” He has pledged to be the president of all Americans, not just those who voted for him. He has promised to reach across party lines to solve the problems facing the country.

His approach struck skeptics as naive, obsolete and futile. Americans have grown more politically polarized in recent years. Racial tensions have persisted. Reasonable, bridgeable differences are in short supply in Washington these days. Less than a year ago, the Democratic House impeached the Republican president. Just weeks ago, the Republican Senate pushed through a Supreme Court nomination that Democrats sought to block.

But Biden confounded the skeptics in defeating his primary rivals, and then defeated a president notorious for his divisive words and policies. As the votes were tallied, slowly, in the hours and days after polls closed Nov. 3, the contrast in temperament between current and future presidents was striking. There was Trump, asserting from the White House, without evidence, that he was the victim of massive voting fraud. Then there was Biden, serenely praising the nation’s shared gift of democracy.

This victory is a testament to the enduring hope of most Americans that, despite their differences, they can still join together for common goals.

The tasks that lie ahead for the president-elect and the nation are fearsome. More than 230,000 Americans have died in a pandemic that, far from subsiding, has been accelerating. More than 12 million people are out of work as the economy struggles to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and many of their employers are either struggling to survive or are already out of business. Local governments are clamoring for more federal aid, but if the GOP hangs onto the Senate, the structure and delivery of that aid could be far less than the House wish list.

The protests that have erupted in the wake of police killings of African Americans highlight all that must be done to redress racial injustice. Life expectancy in our nation has fallen each of the past three years, partly from drug overdoses and other “deaths of despair.”

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought here without authorization as children — and allowed to remain under Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — live with gnawing uncertainty about their future. And Biden will be pulled by an increasingly far left movement in his own party to deliver more government programs — from a government awash in deep and alarming deficit spending.

Biden can’t be expected to solve all the problems facing Americans. But maybe he can help inspire the sort of unity that makes progress possible. On the eve of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln told his fellow citizens: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” This election offers a sense of calm that most Americans agree is overdue.

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